Friday, December 14, 2018

Why Gold is Golden

Ever wonder why currency was (in the old days) linked to gold and silver? Here's a good article on the subject. To sum up the reasons:

  • as a substance, it is stable (it doesn't react or oxidize like other metals)
  • it is non-toxic (uranium would make a poor choice for a currency)
  • it was (in ancient times) easy to extract and work with compared to other metals
  • both gold and silver are scarce, but not impossibly rare

Of the two substances (gold and silver), silver tarnishes, reacting with minute amounts of sulfur in the air. Gold doesn't react at all, looking just as shiny as ever, even after centuries. That makes it prettier...and thus a bit more valuable than silver.

Iron, on the other hand, will rust and disintegrate, unless kept completely dry. Though even without that little reality (an entropic currency), there's just too much of it lying around to be truly valuable, in the same way as gold and silver. As the article points out, you'd need some pretty large iron coins (or a lot of them). Gold and silver, because of their scarcity, becomes much more portable...and thus more practical to use as money.

The setting of DragonLance (the world of Krynn), doesn't state that it is particularly "iron scarce" (as is the case in Athas, for example: the world of the Dark Sun campaign setting). Here is the justification given for a steel currency in the post-apocalyptic world of Krynn:

"Before the Cataclysm, the days were calm and ordered; nothing was unexpected. Now the world is changed: its change has taught two great lessons.

"First, no safe. All the riches of the past could not protect the ancient peoples. Gold has no value in the world now: it is too soft for swords or armor. Steel is the most valued metal of all, though each small kingdom has its own currency and exchange..."

Okay, I can understand steel being more valuable in this "new Iron Age" (ha, just realized the whole devaluation of gold thing might be a metaphor for the end of Krynn's "Golden Age")...but there's a difference between something being valuable because of its intrinsic worth (people don't care about decoration and jewelry in a world where you live and die by the sword), and something being valued as a unit of exchange. People didn't give sell chickens for gold coins because they preferred to eat's because the gold could be easily exchanged with someone else for some other valued commodity. It's easier (and more sanitary) to carry a purse of coins than a bag full of chickens.

[yes, I realize that medieval folks, especially in rural areas, were mostly on the "barter system" and that chickens have never been valued in gold]

So given that we're still talking about using coin currency as a medium of exchange in a world that's got 14th-15th century technology, I think it's ridiculous that "bricks of gold may prop open doors and hold down papers."

Likewise, given that gold appears to have been the standard unit of currency pre-Cataclysm, and several towns and large cities (like Palanthas) managed to escape the destruction, why would they change how they do business? And why would a dragon hoard in an ancient, pre-Cataclysm city consist of "steel pieces." Isn't gold a softer bed to sleep on?

And in a world where dragons exist, proliferate, and (presumably) value gold, shouldn't other intelligent species feel the same? If only to bribe said dragons and keep them from from raining destruction on their communities?, not a fan of DragonLance's "steel piece" currency. That's the first thing I'd need to rewrite prior to conversion (though I like the idea of different currencies and exchange rates between different territories...I might keep that, just for fun).

More later.

This is not currency except (perhaps) in Gamma World.

1 comment:

  1. Dragonlance was terrible for a lot of reasons. OTOH just go with it and you can have a good time in the world.